Giles Ji Ungpakorn
While I am very reluctant to tempt fate by making any conclusive remarks about the effect of the Covid 19 world pandemic on Thai society, there are indications that the spread of the virus and the death rates in Thailand are much lower than the figures from Western Europe and the USA. But the effects of the parliamentary military junta’s lock-down rules on the poor have been devastating.
The lower levels of Covid 19 deaths in Thailand are little to do with government measures. The figures are similar to other South-East Asian countries.
If we look at the number of deaths per million people, the Philippines has the highest at 6, followed by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore with 3. Thailand’s figure is 0.8. This compares to the appalling figure of 598 for the U.K.
The lower proportion of elderly people in the population of South-East Asia may be a small factor, but this must surely be countered by the much higher levels of poverty and ill health.
Some research papers from Harvard University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropic Medicine have questioned the belief that warmer climates help to reduce the spread of the virus. Traditional flu does show peaks in winter and troughs in the summer. But the figures above mean that we have to wonder whether hot and humid climates and strong sunlight and UV radiation, together with more time spent outdoors, do have a significant effect on reducing Covid 19.
The extremely low Covid 19 figures for Vietnam show that the country’s draconian lock-down measures plus testing and tracking are also significant. So I do not advocate any premature lifting of lock down measures anywhere.
Of course, we must also be mindful of the quality of data from governments that hide the truth and record Covid 19 deaths under other categories due to lack of testing.
While the present levels of Covid 19 cases and deaths in Thailand are low, the threat of hunger and destitution among the poor is shocking. The closure of entertainment establishments, restaurants, street stalls, workplaces associated with the tourist industry, and many factories, means that millions are trying to survive on no income. This can be seen by the desperate queues for food and cash hand-outs from charitable organisations.
Meanwhile the government’s support for the unemployed is totally inadequate and shambolic. This shines a light on glaring inequality in society and the fact that Thailand does not have a welfare state. The rich and the elite continue to ride on the backs of millions of poor workers and peasants and the King and other royal parasites live in unbelievable luxury. Wachiralongkorn flies between his five-star hotel in Germany and his palace in Thailand, often ordering food and other items to be flown out to him in Europe according to his whims.
To add insult to injury, the military are still trying to spend millions from public funds on expensive weaponry.
The whole situation is made much worse by the fact that the conservative elites have worked hard to destroy a democracy that was moving towards building a more inclusive and equal society since 2006. Whatever the faults and crimes of the Taksin government, and there were many, Taksin’s policies reflected a more modern vision of an inclusive society with universal health care, job creation and improved education. The alliance between Taksin’s elected governments and the working class and peasantry was just too much for the conservatives. Hence we are now saddled with a parliamentary dictatorship led by the military [see https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI and http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs ]. It is this parliamentary dictatorship which is causing such hardship for the poor during the world Covid 19 pandemic. Given that we will be going into a world economic depression on the scale of the 1930’s, the situation for ordinary Thais can only get worse.
Read my previous article on Covid 19 in Thailand: https://bit.ly/2Syd7L8